There are a lot of different factors that go into the Google Search Algorithm. And most of them are things that you, the webmaster, have direct control over. We’re talking about the quality and optimization of your content, the page loading speed, page security and accessibility, mobile-device friendliness, metadata optimization, etc. But there are other important elements that you probably don’t have as much of a say in. Take, for example, your backlink profile.

Simply put, your backlink profile is a complete list and record of all the links that point from other pages to your site. Whenever an external site decides to connect to your content using hyperlinked anchor text, that backlink (also known as an ‘inbound link’) becomes a part of your profile for as long as it is active. And Google notices.

We discussed backlinks’ importance before (a few times), but today we’d like to peel away some of the mystique and dive into what these links are all about. More specifically, we’ll be going over whether link building actually works, or if you should stop wasting your time on it. Let’s get started.

Do Backlinks Work?

Now, we recognize that we might be a little too close to this subject to be objective. Asking a link building agency whether backlinks work is like asking an insurance agent if you need additional coverage. But just because we’re biased doesn’t mean we’re not also right. What it does mean is that we have insider-level expertise about backlinks, and we understand the nuances of how they operate and what Google takes into account when it’s crawling your profile. So, allow us to make an absolute statement, and then quickly qualify that statement:

Yes, backlinks work. But only when they’re done right.

To understand what we mean by that, let’s look at why backlinks are important.

Why Are Backlinks Important?

The truth about backlinks is that they’ve been a part of the digital landscape for nearly as long as search engines have existed. But it wasn’t until Google hit the scene and began revolutionizing online search that these links took on increased significance. Google started tracking backlinks, boosting page rankings based on link popularity. But the Google algorithm didn’t just count links; it also considered the quality of the links. Links from highly authoritative pages provided more link equity than those from less authoritative sites.

And this continues to hold true today.

The modern Google algorithm has gone through several significant changes throughout the years, but the importance of backlinks is still one of its key ranking factors. Or, as Google puts it:

“One of several factors we use to help determine [content quality] is understanding if other prominent websites link or refer to the content. This has often proven to be a good sign that the information is well trusted.”

That may sound less than enthusiastic, but keep in mind that Google is notoriously cagey when it comes to divulging what it is that makes their algorithm tick — the fact that they mention links at all suggests that backlink profiles may be extremely important. How important? Many SEO experts (ourselves included) note that links are the second-most important ranking factor, only beaten out by the quality of the content itself.

With the right backlinks from authoritative sources, Google takes that as a vote of confidence for your page. After all, if top-quality pages are willing to link to you, you must also be top-quality. The backlink profile signals to the search engine that your page is useful, and the search engine bumps you up in the rankings. A robust, diverse backlink profile also demonstrates authenticity, connecting your site to a range of referring domains.

The end result? More page authority, which means a top spot on the search engine results page (SERP), which means more visibility and traffic, which means a better chance for your page to help you accomplish your goals.

Is There Data Backing This Up?

Oh yes, there is data. Link building case studies aren’t difficult to find, and they all tend to say the same thing: Backlinks make a big difference. However, we at BASE Search Marketing aren’t always content with other people’s evidence, so we compiled some of our own.

Working with a company in the health-and-wellness industry, BASE built targeted backlinks to four important URLs, focusing on a single keyword for each. And in three months, the client had gone from organically ranking for fewer than 20 keywords to ranking for 489 keywords, with 46 of those keywords reaching page 1 in their SERPs.

You can read more of the details here.

Backlinks Done Right

OK. It’s pretty clear that backlinks can make a big difference. So why are there still those who remain unconvinced? The answer to that lies in how they build their backlink profiles. Like we said before, backlinks only work when they’re done correctly. And as Google hinted at, it’s the prominent sites that provide the highest quality links.

In other words, backlinks are about so much more than how many you can acquire. You could get a thousand links all pointing to your homepage, and if those links were from spammy, low-quality, non-useful sites, it wouldn’t move the needle in the slightest bit — except by moving it backward and maybe landing you some link penalties in the process.

For backlinks, quality will always be more important than quantity.

But wait, don’t backlinks originate on other sites? How can you ensure that the inbound links pointing to your pages are good enough?

Improving Your Backlinks

Well, the first thing you can do to build an impressive backlink profile is to create content that’s worth linking to. By building a site that is educational, entertaining, and/or inspiring, other sites will naturally want to use your content as a linked resource. And given that content quality is the top Google ranking factor, this will also help your site from an SEO perspective. Just go ahead and optimize your content with some keyword research and you should be set.

Of course, sometimes networking needs a little push. Reaching out to distinguished sites within your niche can be a great way to establish effective link building relationships. If you can demonstrate the quality of what you have to offer, many sites will allow you to guest post, providing them with free content in exchange for in-text links back to your pages.

As for any low-quality backlinks that might be hurting your SEO, there are steps you can take to get them out of your profile. Your first action should be to keep a close eye out for any problematic links that might be connecting to your page (this can be accomplished by performing a backlink audit).

When you find bad links, reach out to the linking websites and request that the links be removed. This is particularly important if you’ve been penalized for those links, as Google will want to see a record of your attempt before they are willing to reconsider the penalty. If the websites aren’t willing to manually remove the links, you’ll need to address the problem on your end by creating and uploading a disavow file.

This may seem like a big and ongoing job, but it’s really only scratching the surface. If you don’t want to have to handle all of these tasks on your own, consider using a reliable link building tool or partnering with a trusted link building agency.

Avoiding ‘Black Hat’ Link Building

Finally, it’s worth recognizing that not every method of acquiring links is effective or ethical. ‘Black hat’ link building — link building practices that violate Google Search Central’s guidelines — can land your site in serious trouble with the search engine. Examples of black hat practices include linking within link farms or private blog networks (networks of websites that only exist to pass authority between sites) and attempting to drop inbound links into blog comment sections.

Whether you’re handling your own link building efforts or contracting out to a link building service, always make sure that any strategy employed to bring links back to your site only follows ‘white hat’ practices.

BASE for Backlinks

Now you know the truth about backlinks — they’re important, they work, and they can be problematic if you’re not careful in how you approach them. The good news is that BASE Search Marketing is here to help. If you’re ready to start building a backlink profile capable of carrying your site to the top, schedule a meeting with us today. Because after all, there are some factors of the Google Search Algorithm that you can’t do anything about, but backlinks shouldn’t be one of them.